Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Friday, December 12, 2014

Copper Cais ~ The Milk of Ireland Ripened in the Heart of Butte

Veronica Steele
Veronica Steele
In 2010, I took a break from work in the digital world to explore the ancient, multi-sensory realm of artisan cheesemaking.

While employed as a cheesemonger at Cowgirl Creamery in Northern California's Point Reyes Station, I read an article in Culture magazine about County Cork and Irish farmhouse cheesemakers on the Beara Peninsula who make a variety of “washed-rind” cheeses with a distinctive red hued rind. It struck me that the color much resembled that  of smelted red copper which is the economic mainstay of Butte, Montana, where I grew up.

The Irish immigrants who worked in the copper mines of Butte more than a hundred years ago mostly came from County Cork. Thinking it would be wonderful to introduce Butte to this savory variation of copper, I wrote to Veronica Steele of Milleens Cheese in Eyeries, Ireland, and asked about her willingness to teach cheesemaking classes during An Ri Ra 2013, Butte’s annual Irish Festival. Her response opened a whole new understanding for me about the Butte - County Cork connection.
Hi, Cynthia, It would be amazing to go to Butte, Montana to conduct a class. This area of Ireland has huge connections to Butte. It's spoken of as though it were the next village. If you ever get the resources together, I'll be over in a shot! Best wishes, Veronica

Allihies Copper Ends - Butte Copper Begins

Allihies, Ireland
 Allihies, Ireland
Everyone with Irish ancestry in Butte grows up hearing about County Cork, but no common mention is made about the bulk of Irish miners coming from Allihies, a small copper-mining village on the southwestern reaches of the Beara Peninsula.

Milleens Parish Ancestry Record
Beara Ancestry Record
Copper mining began in Allihies as early as the Bronze Age. In the Industrial Era of the 1800's, it became a full-scale commercial production.  Then, in the 1870's, the veins began to play out just as the Copper Kings in Butte, half a world away, were getting started.

With enticement from copper barons like Marcus Daly, the exodus of miners from Allihies seemed to take place overnight. Veronica's comment about Butte being "spoken of as though it were the next village" was no exaggeration. This story captured my imagination. Six months later I was seated with Veronica at a table in her house, enjoying Milleens Cheese and learning about the very people I knew while growing up.

Midway through our visit, Veronica and her husband Norman introduced me to volumes of Beara family histories compiled by Riobard O'Dwyer.  Called "My Ancestors (Annals of Beara)", the words "Butte, Montana" echoed through the pages like a supplication. That day, Veronica and I outlined a nascent plan, called the Copper Cais Project. Cais is the Gaelic word for cheese. Given that the most common association to Ireland in Butte is about alcohol, we intended to diversify that bond with the addition of fine food.

The Milk of Ireland Ripened in the Heart of Butte

From Allihies, I went straight to Butte and began laying the foundation for Veronica to conduct cheesemaking and cultural history classes there the next year. As a long-term economic incentive, we also proposed to experiment with using an old Butte copper mine as an aging cave for cheese made in Ireland. Abandoned mines have been used successfully as aging caves throughout the world so this was an achievable dream. In fact, our slogan - The Milk of Ireland Ripened in the Heart of Butte - had the ring of a perfect marketing campaign.

I built a project website, made arrangements for Veronica's classes, and even scouted an old Butte mine shaft as a possible affinage site. Back in Ireland, Veronica researched ways to bring her cheese through customs without fear of confiscation. All was proceeding on target until fate took control of our plan. Less than a year after I met Veronica, she developed Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), a fatal neurological disease. Though we tried to move forward with modifications, it was soon obvious that our vision was no longer possible.

Veronica and I kept in touch over the internet as she survived a few more years. Despite extreme physical and psychological challenge, she remained an active member of her family and community. Cheesemakers from around the world paid ongoing tribute to her.

Of course, I felt deep disappointment at the loss of a new and magical friendship with Veronica whose depth and force of capability created an international legacy, all from a remote farmhouse on an ancient island; and of the opportunity to share her inspiration in the place where I grew up. But the insight to be gained from such turns lies in appreciating the voyage from a wider view.

Locations at the outer reaches of Ireland are served by infrequent public transportation. Most people simply rely on car rides with others. So Veronica and Norman arranged for me to stay overnight in their daughter's house in Allihies before returning to Cork City. (The Steele family, by the way, personifies the kind of relationship that will only be an aspiration for most of us.)

North Star beckons to Allihies
In a small village with no artificial night light, Polaris shone bright above the black horizon of the North Atlantic. It called my attention to the West, and I saw what they once saw, those ancestors who braved their way from Allihies to Butte. The phrase "beacon of hope" will never have a more fitting rendition in my mind.

Now I'm taking this experience to life through animation.  The working title is CopperMind.  Let the stars be my guide.

Cork City Ireland ~ Historic Center of Food Safety Innovation

Cork English Market Main Entrance Interior
English Market Main Entrance
Cork City is the culinary capital of Ireland, and anyone who doubts that claim has only to visit The English Market to be converted. Built in response to Cork's economic prosperity in the eighteenth century, it opened on August 1, 1788, and has survived many challenges, including a devastating fire in 1980. Today it is the centerpiece of Cork's thriving culinary economy and a vibrant reminder of its long history in artisan food production.
Quoting from The English Market Website: 
The unrivalled ability of Cork Harbour to shelter the biggest fleets assembled during the American War of Independence and later during the Napoleonic Wars was a major factor in the expansion of the provisions trade in Cork. The Cork Butter Market, with its strict and rigorously enforced system of quality control, was world famous and became the largest butter market in the world for its time.

The First Quality Control System for Food

Cork Butter Early Export Map
Cork Butter ~ Early Export Map
The Cork Butter Museum is another testament to Cork County's centuries old artisan food industry. Illustrated through rooms of detailed displays, the museum pays tribute to the city's strategic contribution in expanding global trade routes soon after Columbus sailed to the Americas. Perhaps its most important and lasting innovation, though, was the establishment of a quality grading system for butter, essentially creating the world's first food quality control system.

Celebrating the Science of Good Food

University College Cork Dairy Department Signage
UCC Dairy Department Signage
Crowning Cork's reputation for good food is the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at University College Cork (UCC). In addition to being one of Europe's most respected food science research centers, it is also the oldest dairy science training institution in the world.  It's no surprise then that milk and cheese have such prominence in this UCC video production about 5th century Irish foods.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Allihies Ireland and Montana Ancestors

Entering Allihies
Entering Allihies
Situated on the extreme western tip of the Beara Peninsula, Allihies takes pride in being the farthest from Dublin of any village in Ireland.  It even celebrates the fact that the Allihies Copper Mining Museum is ‘the most inaccessible museum in Ireland.’ Yet it still keeps vigil, on a daily basis, for relatives who emigrated to Butte more than a century ago.

Sullivan Family Headstone in Allihies
Sullivan Family Headstone in Allihies
Enveloped by rippling mountains, deep green hills, and the beckoning fingers of its rocky Atlantic coastline,  the streets and structures of Alllihies village are bright and pristine.

Adding an unexpected touch of magic is the sub-tropical vegetation.  Fuchsia, bamboo and, especially, palm trees are everywhere thanks to the warm flow of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. It is a remote, independent, and stunningly beautiful place.

Only the Man Engine House stands as a visual reminder of its hard rock history. Without visiting the Copper Museum, it would be nearly impossible to imagine the tragedy of daily life for those men, women and children who worked the mines in Allihies.

The Allihies Copper Mining Museum

Allihies Copper Mining Museum Displays
Allihies Copper Mining Museum Displays
From the Allihies Copper Museum Website
In the mid-nineties a group of Allihies residents came together to discuss how they might preserve and present the local copper mining heritage of this unique area. The idea of Allihies Copper Mine Museum (ACMM) was born and hard work and dedication on the part of the local community brought it to fruition. 
Attended by then-president Mary McAleese, the museum finally opened its doors in May, 2007.
Butte Story - Allihies Mining Museum
Butte Story
The Museum is housed in an old Methodist church which once served the Cornish miners of Allihies. Now filled with displays and historic artifacts, it is a reverent tribute to those who got little or no recognition while alive. Notable throughout the stories is the mention of Butte, Montana. No wonder it is still thought of, "as a village down the road."

The Steele Family ~ Irish Farmhouse Cheese

Milleens Cheese in the Cork English Market
Veronica Steele and her family ferried me around the remote Beara coastline, welcomed me into their home, and gave me a house to myself in Allihies for an utterly magical evening.  They are generous, intelligent, insightful people; and I treasure the experience of being in their company.

Veronica is the often acknowledged mother of Irish Farmhouse Cheese, a revival that started in the 1970's.  Milleens, her first commercially available product, also re-introduced washed-rind cheesemaking to the Isle with highly successful results. Perhaps a majority of Cork County Farmhouse cheeses are now of the washed-rind type.  Following are excerpts and links to details of the Steele's beautiful story.
Early Image of Veronica Making Cheese
Early Image of Veronica Making Cheese
Excerpt: Bord Bia Cheese Guide:  
Milleens is Ireland’s longest established farmhouse cheese. Veronica and Norman Steele began making cheese on their land at Milleens, on the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork in 1976. The ‘History’ section of the Milleens website contains a wonderful piece on those early days, giving a vivid, first-hand account of how the cheese came into being, from the story of their one horned cow, Brisket, onwards. Veronica is generally regarded as the first Irish farmhouse cheese maker, although she is wont to play down her own importance in the development of Irish washed-rind cheese.

Milleens Creamery
 Milleens Creamery
Guardian UK Irish Farmhouse Cheese Guide:
Twenty-five years ago farmhouse cheesemaking was a lost tradition in Ireland. Medieval monks may have been expert cheesemakers - it is thought they exported their techniques across the Continent - but modern factories were only turning out rubbery cheddar-type cheeses. Despite the lushness of the landscape and the vitality of dairy farming, no one was making high quality, handmade cheeses of the kind you might expect to find anywhere in France. Then along came Norman and Veronica Steel.

Norman is English, but studied at Trinity College, Dublin; he met Veronica when he gave a lecture on Wittgenstein in Cork and 'she was just about the only person in the audience not wearing a nun's habit or a dog collar'. They have been inseparable ever since, living in a ramshackle cottage on the West coast - you have to go outside to get to the sitting room - surrounded by pecking hens. Here, they have raised four children and here, in 1976, they began to make Milleens. (more...)

Veronica and Norman's son Quinlan, an accomplished sea kayaker, is now Milleens' Master Cheesemaker and he is extending Milleens in delightfully delicious ways.
Quinlan Steele
Quinlan Steele
Again quoting Bord Bia:The new form of Milleens, in O’s and Dotes, is testament to the innovation which Quinlan has brought to the business. Quinlan has taken the innovative step of cutting a disc out of the centre of each wheel. The removal of this disc increased the surface of the doughnut shaped cheese. Traditional rounds are also made. The Milleens ‘O’ and the dotes differ slightly in both texture and flavour. 
The ‘O’ is more reminiscent of traditional Milleens, retaining a slight chalkiness at the centre of the paste and that particular earthy signature which is unique to the Milleens rind. By contrast the dotes are softer and more whiffy, with a more active orange rind. They present a winning combination of creaminess and farmyard aromas and are the equal of any Continental washed rind cheese.

A virtual taste of Milleens begins at 1:35 in this Discover Ireland video.